Hao Liang, Poetics of Li Shangyin I, 2021. Ink and color on silk, unframed 33.7x53cm. © Hao Liang. Courtesy Gagosian.
Such feeling cannot be recalled again; it seemed long lost even when it was felt then.
—Li Shangyin, “The Sad Zither”
Gagosian announces The Sad Zither, the first solo exhibition in Europe by Chinese painter Hao Liang will be presented in London. In his delicate but immersive landscape and figure paintings, and in his choice of literary references, Hao reflects on a spectrum of emotions while considering the passage of time and the ways in which we move through the world. Giving the methods and motifs of traditional Chinese ink wash painting a contemporary spin, he highlights the genre’s unique materiality while drawing on sources from cinema, modernist art, and Chinese and Western literature. Hao employs the guohua technique to make compositions on silk that are subtly toned and tinted, but indelible, accentuating his subjects’ complexity and infusing narrative and allegorical references with atmosphere and feeling.
Hao Liang, Spring and Emaciated Horse, 2022. Ink and color on silk, unframed 44.1x32.3cm, framed 54.5x42.5x3.5cm. © Hao Liang. Courtesy Gagosian.
In the thirteen paintings on view at Gagosian’s Grosvenor Hill gallery, which were produced over the past two years, Hao explores themes and symbols from fiction and poetry, engaging with the works of Dante, Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, and Chinese poets Tao Yuanming (c. 365–427 CE), Li Shangyin (813–858 CE), and Du Mu (808–852 CE). The exhibition’s title alludes to Qian Zhongshu’s book On the Art of Poetry (1948), specifically the annotated text of Li Shangyin’s poem “The Sad Zither,” which notes various parallels between the verse and the instrument, including their translations of emotion into symbol, and their aesthetics of “rhythm and vitality.” In three paintings from 2021 named for this Tang dynasty literary and political figure, Hao presents the most impressionistic of all the exhibition’s works—shimmering, near-abstract interpretations of the writer’s texts on emotion and the natural world.
Hao Liang, Gatha by Ikkyū, 2022. Ink and color on silk, 149x237cm unframed. © Hao Liang. Courtesy Gagosian.
Hao’s Gatha by Ikkyū (2022) is a landscape featuring three distant figures in which a backdrop of trees adopts an ominous form suggestive of dark clouds, and a faint line of what looks like blood cuts across the skyline. The title derives from a phrase coined by Zen master Ikkyū Sōjun: “The blind leading the blind.” The wistful Searching for the Peach Blossom Land to No Avail (2022), a quiet image of a tranquil landscape rendered in gentle grisaille, draws on an ancient Chinese source, Tao Yuanming’s “Account of the Peach Blossom Spring” (421 CE), a fable about the chance discovery of a utopian realm whose inhabitants subsist in harmony with nature.
Hao Liang, All Things, 2022. Ink on silk, unframed 35x27cm, framed 47.1x39.3x3.3cm. © Hao Liang. Courtesy Gagosian.
In Divine Comedy II (2022), a disconsolate figure walks toward a group of bare trees in an otherwise barren landscape as a snake coils up from the ground. The composition is veiled by a ragged chain-link fence. Here Hao’s allusion is to Inferno—the artist has discussed his admiration for Osip Mandelstam’s reading of Dante, further remarking on the mastery of symbolism that the Russian poet shares with Li Shangyin. In Under a Tree in Britain (2022), a huge whirlpool covers the surface of a lake as a demonic figure stands beneath a tree and a second figure, in the lower right corner, walks past inconspicuously. The image refers to an incident from Borges’s story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” in which the narrator’s relative has penned a novel that explores every possible choice simultaneously: “I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths,” the narrator relates, “of a meandering, ever-growing labyrinth that would encompass the past and future.”
A catalogue featuring texts by Travis Diehl and Zhu Zhu will be published to accompany the exhibition.
About the Exhibition
Dates: February 9–March 18, 2023
Venue: Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London
Courtesy of Gagosian.